This is a serious question:
John Shelby Spong has spent (wasted?) the last 17+ years attempting to create a “Post-Theist” version of Christianity.
What this amounts to is: a version of “Christianity” without: God, Jesus, “Sin”, Salvation, Heaven, Hell etc.
As Wikipedia describes it:
Spong’s “Twelve Points for Reform” were originally published in The Voice, the newsletter of the Diocese of Newark, in 1998. Spong elaborates on them in his book A New Christianity for a New World:
- Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead. So most theological God-talk is today meaningless. A new way to speak of God must be found.
- Since God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms, it becomes nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity. So the Christology of the ages is bankrupt.
- The Biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense.
- The virgin birth, understood as literal biology, makes Christ’s divinity, as traditionally understood, impossible.
- The miracle stories of the New Testament can no longer be interpreted in a post-Newtonian world as supernatural events performed by an incarnate deity.
- The view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God and must be dismissed.
- Resurrection is an action of God. Jesus was raised into the meaning of God. It therefore cannot be a physical resuscitation occurring inside human history.
- The story of the Ascension assumed a three-tiered universe and is therefore not capable of being translated into the concepts of a post-Copernican space age.
- There is no external, objective, revealed standard written in scripture or on tablets of stone that will govern our ethical behavior for all time.
- Prayer cannot be a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history in a particular way.
- The hope for life after death must be separated forever from the behavior control mentality of reward and punishment. The Church must abandon, therefore, its reliance on guilt as a motivator of behavior.
- All human beings bear God’s image and must be respected for what each person is. Therefore, no external description of one’s being, whether based on race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, can properly be used as the basis for either rejection or discrimination.
The basic problem with Spongs line of “reasoning” here is: there is absolutely no point to even attempting to do ANY of what he suggests.
For example: Christianity is derived (at least in part) from Judaism — a monotheistic religion. As such, it “inherited” a (fairly) significant amount what it believes about “God” (Yahweh) from the specific variant(s) of Judaism from which it descends.
Jews can “get away with” the notion that being “Jewish” is a separate “ethnic” identity, distinct from “Judaism” (which is why you find self-proclaimed “Jewish” atheists).
The thing about this is: that won’t work for Christianity.
Christianity has always (at least in part) required — or at least strongly advocated — some fairly-specific “beliefs”: the reality of “God” (typically defined as: omnipotent/omniscient/omnipresent/omnibenevolent, and having “created” everything else).
Same goes for the reality of Jesus, and the “reliability” of the Gospel accounts.
(This is one reason why Christian theologians have spent centuries attempting to derive something called the “Harmony of the Gospels” — which typically consists of handwaving away what skeptics/Non-Christians readily recognize as discrepancies and/or contradictions between the various accounts.
(One particularly shitty cop-out in this regard is the whole “Snare for the proud” thing I mentioned in an earlier post.)
At any rate: the fundamental attraction of Fundamentalism/literalism is: it is the only approach which actually takes the religion SERIOUSLY enough to genuinely “believe” it.
For example: I submit that “Young Earth” creationists are the only ones who genuinely “believe” the Genesis account. Everyone else is basically attempting to excuse the Genesis accounts by “smuggling” real-world scientific knowledge in “under the table”.
For example: the brain-wrecking idiocy surrounding whether the “days” mentioned in Genesis are the standard 24-hour period, or increments of 1000 years.
So, on one hand, you get the “Young Earth” idiocy (which — if taken seriously — flatly precludes its victims from learning anything about biology/paleontology/geology etc.)
The others (if they take the Genesis account seriously) end up — at most — buying themselves an additional 7000 years. prior to 4004 BC.
At any rate, NOBODY who takes the Genesis account seriously would even bother learning about real-world knowledge which undermines doing so (including the fact that even Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 differ from one another, fairly substantially.
(If they DO notice that, they hand-wave it away by dismissing such “seeming” contradictions as “snares for the proud”, and/or their other favorite cop-out, the thing about “mysterious ways”.)
My point is: Fundies take their religion seriously enough TO RESORT TO SELF-INFLICTED STUPIDITY, AND SELF-INFLICTED BLINDNESS. If the Bible asserts that hares “chew the cud”, then some Fundie, somewhere is bound and determined to figure out some gimmick (no matter how unconvincing, self-contradictory, or just plain idiotic) to ensure that this assertion is “correct” (any and all real-world evidence to the contrary, notwithstanding).
So there’s probably some Fundie lunatic somewhere, giving a lecture on how hares chew a “spiritual” (invisible) cud, and how the prohibition against eating them, as “unclean” animals was really intended to remind Christians that they shouldn’t (mentally) “chew” unclean/worldy ideas, etc.
As to the others? the “mainline” denominations who attempt to smuggle in reality-based knowledge, and in so doing end up reducing ever more of their own “Sacred” texts to mere metaphor and allegory? Eventually, there’s a point where any sane and reasonable person would end up asking: why even bother?
And THIS is the point that Spong (and “Unitarian Universalism”) cannot answer:
Why should anyone other than Fundies/literalists even BOTHER sifting through a morass of “seeming” contradictions, discrepancies, textual corruption, etc.?
There are really only a few answers to this question:
- Fundies/Literalists simply ignore any “worldly” evidence/counter-arguments/those pesky “critical thinking” skills etc. and — like Tertullian before them — believe because it is absurd.
- Non-Fundies/”Mainline”-types mostly go through the motions of “believing”, cherry-picking the “good” bits, and coming up with (flimsy and unconvincing) “apologetics” designed to demonstrate that the inconvenient bits don’t really mean what the Fundies say they mean. For example: the (flimsy) cop-out about how Jesus “fulfilled the law”, so Christians going to Red Lobster after church, wearing polyester, committing any other number of what Leviticus designates as “abominations” is super-peachy-keen. (Oddly enough, most of ’em still get squirmy over the “gay” thing, but…..yes, well.)
- The vast majority of the population simply pay vigorous “lip-service” to this stuff, aren’t really that interested in delving into the brain-destroying Doublethink-world of “apologetics”
That’s about it. The only reason any of this goes on is: the Geography of religion (coupled with the desire to avoid being “emotionally blackmailed” by “family” and “friends”) results in substantial populations who don’t take any of it seriously, but who pretend to do so, because if they didn’t, they’d feel like they were insulting Mommy and Daddy.
That is also the reason why so-called “Progressive” Christians tend to privilege one collection of fables (“The Bible”) over other such collections: “social inertia” means that some variant of “Christianity” will be the path of least resistance, in many cases.
Again (as I’ve said in earlier posts): IF the vast majority (or even a substantial minority) of any given population actually CHOSE their religious “beliefs” and “practices”, then you wouldn’t expect those professing such “beliefs” and engaging in such “practices” to occur in GEOGRAPHIC PROXIMITY TO ONE ANOTHER.
You *might* expect that such “self-segregation” would develop later (given the “birds of a feather” tendency) but even then, the “beliefs” and “practices” in any given area would be far less monolithic than what we actually see.